Project View: Mobile penpals – Stanford RDVP program


Last year, I spoke at Stanford University’s Digital Visions program. Since then, I have been keeping in touch with Karen Coppock (Director, Industry Collaboration – Stanford RDVP program) and her team at Stanford.

The Reuters Digital Vision Program (RDVP) is a Stanford centre for social entrepreneurship that applies the principles of high-tech innovation to create product and service concepts that empower communities worldwide. This resonates with my personal vision of the power of Mobile technology to make a wider, global impact on society and affect the lives of people (The mobile Internet will do more for Africa than live 8!)

So, I am always happy to blog about the interesting work Karen and her team are doing – since it has the potential to make a difference in the lives of so many people worldwide.

Here are two programs I think are interesting

John Kuner is working on Project VIEW. When I was young, I had a ‘pen friend’. Today, the same idea can be enriched by mobile technology. Project View explores the use of camera phones and digital storytelling for cross-cultural connections between students in the United States and students in the developing world. Although lack of access to computer technology is a common problem in the developing world, mobile phones are ubiquitous. Camera phones combined with non-verbal communications like movement and digital storytelling allow young people to establish meaningful connections with each other across geographic and cultural boundaries. The video exchanges are a cross between websites like MySpace and Facebook, traditional penpal programs and distance learning.

The components of Project View include:

Classes (teaching students how to use their own voice with basic technology to create a short video piece)

Technology (websites, social networking, video uploading, mobile browsing)

Cultural Exchange (by exploring and refining their own viewpoint, then experiencing perspectives from other cultures, students get an early exposure to a broader, global perspective breaking down barriers and assumptions, and fostering tolerance and understanding)

John did the field work in Sri Lanka in Jan 2007. Sri Lanka is a relatively poor country for the average citizen. According to the CIA world factbook, the per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is $4,600, compared to the $43,500 for the United States. (CIA Factbook, 2006). However, it is an excellent place for internet and particularly mobile phone-based projects. Over 4 of the 20 million citizens have cell phones, with a higher concentration in urban areas.

People are tech savvy. A young woman John spoke with was very familiar with cell phones, including prices of phones and services. She had plans with two operators and switched her SIM card (effectively changing her number but keeping the same phone) to take advantage of text messaging promotions for both operators, first using all of her ’50 free weekend text messages’ on one, then using ‘free messaging within the network’ on the other.

The young in Sri Lanka absorb the technology quickly and are hard working and eager to learn – and project View helps them to form relationships with friends worldwide – just like traditional pen pals did.

The second project I found very interesting was by Saori Fotenos which is based on the idea of citizen’s journalism. There is a talk about : Citizen Journalism: A Look at How Blogging is Changing the Media Landscape from the Congo to Korea”, hosted by Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman.

And of course, I follow my friend Adam Tolnay’s project on Y-Fi (Youth Financial Literacy)


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    Global Penfriends